One day between now and the end of the 2018 season, I might figure out why it keeps surprising me that the Orioles are as bad as they are. Today is not that day. Even after having watched this team rack up a 28-71 record, it still surprises me when they blow a three-run eighth inning lead to lose a game. That’s the story of how they lost a 5-4 game to the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon.
The loss keeps the Orioles winless in the post-Manny Machado era. It also marks the eleventh time this season that the Orioles have been swept in a series of three or more games and drops their July record to 5-13. They cannot guarantee a losing season this month, but it won’t be long after that before it happens.
The sad thing about this latest loss is that unlike many games this season, it did not need to be a loss. Starting pitcher Andrew Cashner pitched well, was lifted at the correct time when he ran into trouble, and the Orioles added late insurance runs to set up what ought to have been a comfortable lead and a drama-free ending to the game. These are the 2018 Orioles. There is no comfortable lead.
Things all started to go wrong when Brad Brach took the mound, as has unfortunately happened several times this season. The Orioles had just scored two runs in the top of the eighth inning to increase a lead to 4-1. Naturally, the first batter Brach saw, the Jays #9 hitter Lourdes Gurriel, singled.
After getting one out, Brach came up against one of the year’s true Orioles destroyers, Randal Grichuk. There is no reason to be repeatedly obliterated by a player whose season batting line is .213/.279/.460, but this is the Orioles we’re talking about. Brach left a pitch hanging and Grichuk walloped it somewhere between the second and third decks in Rogers Centre. The comfortable 4-1 lead was suddenly a much more dramatic 4-3.
Nor was Brach done allowing runners: Justin Smoak reached on a cheap infield single against the shift. Is that one Brach’s fault? Eh. Neither was the fact that the next batter, Kendrys Morales, hit a ground ball that could have been a 3-6-3 double play and wasn’t, with Trey Mancini opting to just step on first and guarantee one out. But I’m not inclined to make excuses for him.
Neither, it seems, was Buck Showalter, who, with switch-hitter Yangervis Solarte due up, summoned his elite lefty closer Zach Britton for the four-out save. (hand to earpiece) No, I’m sorry, I’m being told that in fact Showalter called upon Tanner Scott instead, because apparently there’s some weird hangup about having Britton pitch in a key situation in Toronto.
Should I get worked up about this when the Orioles are 28-72? No, but it’s annoying that this happens again and again. Two of the three games this series were lost without Britton pitching to defend a late lead or tie.
This was the second time in the game where the O’s made a pitching change to bring a lefty in to face Solarte. It is unclear why this was such an important thing in their eyes, because although Solarte does have a slightly lower batting average and OBP as a lefty, it’s where he hits for more power.
Wise decision or not, Scott got to a 3-1 count against Solarte because sometimes he cannot throw strikes and then Solarte got a hold of a pitch and it just kept carrying and carrying and found its way over the fence and just like that the Orioles were losing, 5-4. This was Solarte’s 17th home run of the season and his eighth against a lefty in just 128 at-bats.
It is true that the Orioles are in a position to test some young players. Sometimes they are going to fail those tests. This is particularly true in the case of those young players who have walked 6.4 batters per nine innings in their professional careers, a group which includes Scott. Going young is good for a team like this, but not every young guy is destined to make it, so the O’s had better be ready with more young guys.
The Brach/Scott tandem disaster continues a streak for the Orioles where their starting pitcher has not gotten a win since July 1. Not that it was Cashner’s fault at all that this was the case on Sunday, as Cashner allowed just one run in 5.2 innings, with the one run only scoring due to characteristically poor Orioles defense.
The infielder in left field, Jace Peterson, dove for and missed a Solarte line drive, and then, after he recovered, grabbed the ball and fired in towards the infield, shortstop Tim Beckham was not in place to field the relay throw. This comedy of errors allowed Morales to score from first base on the play. Through three games, it does not seem that moving Beckham back to short has been any cure for any of the O’s defensive woes.
The O’s strung together some fifth inning singles to tie the game. Jonathan Schoop gave them a lead with a sixth inning solo shot, his 12th homer of the season. They added some insurance in the eighth inning off of Jays reliever John Axford, and were helped in part by Oriole-like defense from the Blue Jays, who had two infielders collide with one another while trying to field a routine grounder up the middle, leading to the fourth O’s run scoring.
This should have been more than enough. Alas it was not, and so the Orioles lost for the 72nd time this season. Fellow Camden Chatter Paul Folkemer noted that there have been 24 entire seasons in O’s history where they lost fewer than 72 games.
We are not yet out of July and here the Orioles are. This is a bad baseball team that was the result of a bad offseason plan that was itself borne out of years of bad decisions made, and now by the end of the month they are obligated to trade some of their best players. Machado is already gone. Britton seems likely to be next - not that his presence helped avoid a loss like today’s.
What I’m saying is there are more losses coming. Some of them will probably come over the next three days as the Orioles return to Baltimore to face the division-leading Red Sox, who happen to have scored more runs than any other MLB team. Rick Porcello and Kevin Gausman are lined up as the scheduled starters for the Monday 7:05 opener.